Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ghostly Christmas

Merry Christmas. The Victorians loved to tell ghost stories at Christmas time.

Victorian Ghost Stories: An Oxford Anthology (0192829998)

The 1993 anthology is introduced by the editors. As their academic training taught them to do, Cox and Gilbert in their introduction assert that the Victorian ghost stories reveal ambivalent nostalgia for the looser rowdier 17th and 18th centuries and latent anxieties about the future of their industrializing society. They also give props to women who had to write to provide for their families such Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Lady Audley's Secret) and Charlotte Riddell (The Haunted House at Latchford).

Surprising us post-modern readers by writing in a less serious genre than usual are Charles Dickens, Henry James, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, R.L. Stevenson, and Rudyard Kipling. Also included are writers known primarily for ghost stories, such as J.S. Le Fanu, M.R. James, and Algernon Blackwood. The tone of the stories varies. The somber tale “John Charrington's Wedding” is made all the more horrible because it occurs on a wedding day, a day that ought to the happiest for bride and groom. However, the humorist Jerome K. Jerome gives a lighter touch in “The Man of Science.”

The stories range in time, from 1852 for "The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South; Cranford) to 1908 for “Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon. The stories , therefore, , represent a range of period styles. Here’s a sample of light, from Mrs. Molesworth’s "The Story of the Rippling Train:"

"'Smoke,' was my first idea. 'Can there be anything on fire?' But I dismissed the notion almost as soon as it suggested itself. The something, faint and shadowy, that came slowly rippling itself in as it were beyond the dark wood of the open door, was yet too material for 'smoke.' My next idea was a curious one. 'It looks like soapy water,' I said to myself; 'can one of the housemaids have been scrubbing, and upset a pail on the stairs?' For the stair to the next floor almost faced the library door. But—no; I rubbed my eyes and looked again; the soapy water theory gave way. The wavy something that kept gliding, rippling in, gradually assumed a more substantial appearance. It was—yes, I suddenly became convinced of it—it was ripples of soft silken stuff, creeping in as if in some mysterious way unfolded or unrolled, not jerkily or irregularly, but glidingly and smoothly, like little wavelets on the sea-shore.

Only a couple of the stories are so ornate as to be unreadable. Readers in the market for a variety of haints, spirits, and specters that dog unwary families that rent weird houses and travelers in lonely districts should check out this anthology.

No comments:

Post a Comment